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ASU alum heads to California to take on music world

Joey Unami finds her voice in being true to herself

Joey Unami said she felt more connected to other ASU students after cutting her hair and performing her music on campus. Photo courtesy of Joey Unami.

Joey Unami said she felt more connected to other ASU students after cutting her hair and performing her music on campus. Photo courtesy of Joey Unami.

An ASU alum has found her voice and identity as she takes on the music world. 

Joey Unami, formerly known as Josielle Cheekymole, is a musician who lives near downtown Phoenix with her girlfriend Maya Buitron. Unami describes herself as lesbian, an identity she said hasn’t always been easy. 

During childhood, Unami said she had difficulties using the label "lesbian." 

“Are you a boy or a girl?” Unami said was a common question before she came out. “It’s kind of embarrassing because when you’re a kid, you don’t want things to get to you. You try to tell yourself to ignore it. I guess in my mind, deep down inside, I knew that I was gay.”

The 23-year-old graduated from ASU with a degree in construction management.

“I actually wanted to leave ASU my first year,” Unami said. “I called my mom, end of first semester, and I said I don’t want to be here. I want to get out. I don’t like the people here.” 

The California native said she disagreed with the wild partier persona many students had adopted upon entering college. 

“Freshmen year was hell. I felt like people were crazy,” Unami said about her fellow students. “Why would you ever want to compromise who you are just because you want to be liked?”

Unami said it wasn’t until her sophomore year, when she cut her hair and began performing in the Memorial Union at the Tempe campus, that she found a genuine connection to fellow students. 

Yet, after donning her new hair cut, Unami said there were new obstacles to overcome. 

“Before I say something or talk, people think I’m male,” she said. 

Unami said she would like people to understand the difficulties for women who choose to dress more boyish. 

“I didn’t go to the restroom at school," she said. "I would go map out restrooms that were handicap or private restrooms around campus and I would go to the restroom there.”

Although, Unami said there were some women who didn’t react negatively to her presence in public restrooms, she worried about those who would. 

“When I’m on stage, people see me perform and they see me as an artist," she said. "When I’m walking around and trying to use the restroom, some people may or may not see me as a male using the restroom, and they start to give me weird looks.”

In her first single as Joey Unami, titled “Changes," she sings about some of the anxiety she feels and the difficulties she has communicating offstage. 

“She writes from life experiences,” said Jim Colletti, music manager at The Listening Room in Phoenix. “She has youthfulness in her writing and sound. She sounds true, she writes from her heart.”

“Her voice has that deeper tone like nice wine; deep red like Merlot,” said Ceil Sal, a friend of Unami's.

After graduation, Unami found work as a project engineer. Yet, her apartment is accented with pictures of musicians and her living room doubles as a recording studio. 

“Working in construction, you’re exhausted mentally and physically everyday,” Unami said. “Saturday and Sundays are my music days, and sometimes I’m exhausted. I can’t do both. If I want to do music, and music is my passion, I want to pursue it 100 percent.”

In mid-July Unami plans to move back to California with her girlfriend to pursue her career in music. 

“It makes me feel happy and hopeful when I hear her music and hear her sing," Buitron said. "Her voice is very powerful." 

Her last performance in Arizona will be Friday at The Listening Room in downtown Phoenix at 7:00 p.m. Click here for more details. 

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